Girl in the Arena, I managed to snag an opportunity to ask author Lise Haines a few questions about her debut young adult novel. (SO EXCITING!) You'll find my questions and Ms. Haines's replies below.
1) Could you describe your writing process? Did you handwrite a draft? Did you work at a desk? Did visiting Rome help only with the chapter when Lyn reflects on her trip there or did it have broader implications for the book?
I write on a MacBook—and like so many laptop users, it almost feels like an extension of my body, I’m on it so often. I’m afraid I’ve developed a bad habit of working in bed so I’ve been trying to switch back to my desk. On weekend days and during the summer, I grab my laptop and start working even before I’ve had breakfast. Sometimes I look at the clock and it’s noon and I’m still working away. It’s not uncommon for me to work during the middle of the night as well. Another habit to break!
In some ways being in Rome made the whole book more real and tangible. And I certainly feel there are some parallels to be made between our culture and that of the Ancient Roman culture. I just saw an article in the NYTs about how many nonfiction books have been written on this subject in the last few years. It’s quite an industry.
2) Your background is as an academic. How has that influenced the writing of Girl in the Arena? While Lyn attempts to decide on a gladiator costume, you make mention of postmodern influences on culture and Lyn wonders what comes next. Do you have any ideas of what theories are on the verge of influencing culture?
Where I teach at Emerson, I mentor young novelists and short story writers, primarily in writing workshops. But in the process of our working together, we talk a lot about our culture, and I think their take on things has had a big influence on me.
I believe I’d need Thad here to see into the future. Like Lyn, I’m wondering what comes next.
3) As I was reading Girl in the Arena, I couldn't help but make comparisons to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy. How do you feel about your readers making such a connection? Can you write to how you think two very different authors can come to incorporate similar conflicts, themes and critiques of culture in their writings?
I’ve just started Hunger Games. But I can see why readers are so drawn to it and I look forward to curling up and reading the whole thing. So, at this point, I just can’t answer your question much as I’d like to. But I can say that both Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut found something to say about the experience of war—so this kind of look at the world from two voices, two perspectives happens.
4) What do you imagined happened to Lyn after the events of Girl in the Arena? Does she continue her education? Does she finish and publish the history she'd been working on? Does she develop a romantic relationship with Uber or Mark?
You’ve nailed some of the basic questions that are left open. And if you and I were sitting down for coffee, no doubt I’d try to pick your brain to find out what you imagine has happened to Lyn and Thad, Mark and Uber. But I hold open the possibility that I might write a sequel or even a trilogy, so I don’t want to give anything away.
5) At one point, Lyn contemplates The Bhaghavad Gita and thinks about how a god can approach a mortal to discuss the moral implications of war. Lyn narrates that she could reach out to the spirits of one or two of her loved ones. Did you consider adding in such a moment into Girl in the Arena? You also include mention of oracles. DId you ever consider incorporating more of ancient Roman mythology into the story? If so, what made you decide not to?
Your questions illustrate so beautifully how many possible directions a single book can take. And that’s one of the things I love about writing. Some people claim, from time to time, that novels or short stories are dead, or that all the stories we have to tell have been told. But your questions point out that there’s endless variety and so much to be explored. I believe I’m aware, as I create a novel, that I have an essential story to tell. If I throw too much into a book, I can lose the story and then my reader will as well. I am, however, fascinated by mythology.
6) I found Lyn's relationship with her mother, Alison, to be central to my understanding of the story as I read. Can you speak to how you developed their relationship as a writer? Did writing it influence your own relationships with your family members or friends?
I absolutely agree, their relationship is key to knowing Lyn and understanding how one can assimilate into a world that instinctively feels wrong. And I realize there are many reasons not to like Allison. But maybe, in understanding the succession of events, and just what she’s up against, we can understand one or two of her choices. This I’ll have to let you decide, of course. I was able to write about their relationship, because internally, I lived with these characters for a very long time.
I can’t really say writing about Lyn and Allison changed my own relationships, though that’s a good question. It makes me think about the way some actors get into a role and have a hard time getting out of it at the end of the day. There was one death in the book that was very hard to write about, but I don’t want to say which one and spoil what happens for those just thinking of picking up my book. But it’s possible my daughter saw how sad I was as I wrote that scene.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about yourself or Girl in the Arena?
I have some things on my website about how GIRL came about. And a few of my daughter’s avatars up, with a list of gladiator movies, little known facts on gladiators and so on. I hope readers will take a look: www.lisehaines.com. There are plenty of places to make responses, and I love hearing from young writers in particular.
Thank you so much for including me on the SJ Kessel site and for reading Girl in the Arena!
UPDATE: There's now a musical trailer for Girl in the Arena:
Learn more about Girl in the Arena and Lise Haines (who you can follow on Twitter) from the other book bloggers on tour:
The 160 Acre Woods, A Patchwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, Maw Books Blog, My Own Little Corner of the World, Reading is My Superpower, The Hungry Readers
P.S. I was given a free copy of this book through Bloomsbury USA along with the other tour members.